How a handy couple restored their Queen Anne house to the pinnacle of perfection
Text and photos by Gayl Gray
When Larry Gossman saw an intricately carved antique mirror at the Hotel Boulderado one day, he couldn’t shake it from his mind. The lovely detailing in the thick wooden frame even included a peering gargoyle. So Larry got to work replicating it, and the spitting image of that antique now resides in his Whittier neighborhood home.
What’s most astonishing about the home is that Larry and his wife, Bonnie, attend to all the adornments themselves, from building and repurposing many of the home’s furnishings to crafting the Victorian fretwork, the wooden trim and the floors. They’ve even tackled the plumbing and windows.
But when they bought their home 42 years ago, the pair had more practical concerns: “There was a draw in the medium density of this neighborhood,” says Bonnie, who is an accountant. “It’s prudent to buy assets that produce income, and when we bought this house, we rented out the upstairs, which was configured as a duplex.”
For Larry, an artist and a master woodworker, the home’s steep roof was the key attraction. It just looked prettier than the other Victorians the couple had found for sale.
The charming gingerbread embellishments that Larry created inside and outside their Queen Anne Victorian were somewhat inspired by the home’s surroundings. The house next door to the Gossmans dates to the late 1860s. It’s the former home of William Penn Collins, a leader of the Boulder Socialist Party during the early 1900s. “His daughter lived next door when we moved in,” Bonnie says.
Early on, Larry sketched the Collins house. A former marketing director for Boulder’s first mall, he incorporated his artistic and building talents into his job by making furnishings and signs used in the mall’s market-
In 1980, he realized he really wanted to be a full-time woodworker. So he and Bonnie founded American Village Restorations, a business that offers a complete range of furniture-restoration services. Larry offers all types of services, from replicating ornamental altar partitions, which he did for St. John’s Episcopal Church, to recaning chairs.
“He can do anything,” says Bonnie, as she cleans leaves from a Christmas cactus at the dining table. Indeed, Larry tools his ornate sketches on wood and does his own upholstering. Bonnie is as crafty as her husband. She even sews her own suits to wear to her accounting job. She has a shrewd eye for detail and loves to garden, which is revealed in the couple’s yard, where impatiens peep out like jewels at the base of a tree, and antique watering cans sit beside lovely alstroemerias.
Bonnie acquired a love of gardening in childhood. Her father was a horticulturist in Florida and the family lived in a marble house surrounded by gardens.
When the Gossmans bought their Queen Anne, located in an area where historic houses tend to be modest, there wasn’t much trim on it. Larry quickly changed that, and now the home boasts intricate trim throughout. The couple also restored the front porch of the house by following the home’s original plans they obtained from Carnegie Library.
Avid readers of the Old House Journal, the Gossmans wanted to restore and preserve the 2,600-square-foot home’s footprint. For example, the trim around the living-room windows is original and dates to 1896, but the couple added the wainscoting. The home’s original woodwork and floors are fir, so Larry used fir in the trim.
“It’s got the original bathroom next to the kitchen, and the typical small, interconnected rooms,” Bonnie says of the home. But the couple added a bay window in the master bedroom to make it more spacious.
Hardwood doors adorn the main entryway, one of them a castoff they found in the neighborhood. Larry modified it to fit the house, and also inlaid the ebony, oak, walnut and cherry design at the home’s entrance.
Not surprisingly, the Gossmans are fans of solid wood, and of repurposing items. For example, the large dining-room cabinet Larry made started with two ornate doors the couple rescued. The kitchen’s antique tin ceiling was imported from the remodel of a downtown Boulder bank. Larry also scopes out castoff wood at building sites and fashions it into home furnishings and decorations.
The Gossmans adore antiques and the fun of finding them and restoring them to their liking. “Every piece of furniture we have is a personal experience,” Larry says. “We’ve worked on all of it,” Bonnie adds, “like this table where we’re sitting. When we saw it we thought, ‘That’s got possibilities, and we don’t have anything to do this weekend.’”
“We’re stuck in a time warp,” Larry marvels. “A youngster once came here to collect the bill for the newspaper. When he entered, he asked, ‘Does somebody really live here?’ The boy realized that everything he’d experienced in life was different than this Victorian home. But this house is an integral part of who we are.”
Even with all their work to make their home a shining tribute to its era, Larry admits that things are still not perfect: “I have never had a bird nest in any of the birdhouses I’ve built—only on top on them.”